A/N: This fic is loosely tied to the idea I started developing in "Identity Politics," which can now be read as a prologue of sorts to this story. "Assumed Identities" takes place shortly after "The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe" for the Doctor and somewhere (likely quite a long time before, but I'll let you all be the judge) before "The Angels Take Manhattan" for River.
The problem, the Doctor reflected, with suddenly needing everyone in the universe (barring one particular individual) to believe that you were dead was that it made day-to-day life incredibly dull.
Certainly he could gallivant around as he'd always done and simply pretend to be a younger version of himself (traveling time and space for over 1100 years had its advantages, not the least of which was that it would be all but impossible for anyone to comprehensively catalogue his every movement before his supposed death at Lake Silencio) but not indefinitely.
He'd tried living the quiet life – had tried very hard, actually – but adventure still seemed to find him at every turn.
So he decided the only thing left to do was to adopt pseudonyms and change them just often enough to (hopefully) avoid allowing anyone to connect those identities with the Doctor.
He only hoped his wife wasn't going to mind a little role-playing.
"The bone meadows? Where are the bone meadows?" River seized the psychic paper and squinted at the cramped message that had appeared just before the Doctor had picked her up at Stormcage. "Well, it's not my writing, I can tell you that."
"Precisely, Dr. Song, which is why I knew I needed to pick you up first," he tapped her nose affectionately. "Doesn't it just sound like our kind of adventure? Bone meadows. Sends a thrill up my spine to say it." He grinned. It had been a long time – far too long – since he'd shared an adventure with anyone, especially River. Amy and Rory were on a self-imposed break from the TARDIS, and besides which he knew this particular trip needed to be with River because she'd mentioned it once to him as they attempted to sync diaries.
River grinned. "It does sound rather exciting, doesn't it? So where exactly are they?"
"Elfenor VII, which I can't say I've ever heard of before." He tweaked the wibbley lever and considered how to broach the next subject. "Speaking of which, there's something we need to discuss before we land."
"Oh?" River raised an eyebrow suggestively. The woman could brush her teeth suggestively if she chose (and, he reflected, she had done so on at least one occasion), and clearly she was under the impression that his 'something' was far removed from the topic he actually needed do discuss.
"Yes, but, um, not what you think. I – well, that is to say we – wait, you have done Area 52, correct?" He always forgot about the diaries, and she was plainly young enough not to put as much stock in them as she ought.
"Of course, Sweetie," she replied. "Unless you're implying that I was also in prison before we were married."
"Right. Yes. Well, no. Of course not. So… you know that I'm supposed to be dead, correct?"
This time River didn't manage to suppress the eyeroll. "I seem to recall something to that effect, yes."
"Well, the thing of it is, I… well, I'm not going to be the Doctor on this particular trip."
The look on River's face was a cross between irritation and confusion.
He sighed. He'd been afraid of this. It sounded so ridiculous when he said it aloud. "I'm trying to keep a low profile, River. It's difficult to maintain the illusion of having died in Utah if I don't make an effort to leave a smaller footprint on the universe than I did in the past."
"But Sweetie, whoever sent that message sent it to your psychic paper. I think they might already know who you are."
He shook his head. "I can't assume that, River. Messages have been known to show up on the psychic paper that weren't intended for me. Or rather, weren't intended for only me. Regardless, I'm not the Doctor this trip, all right?" He adopted what he hoped was a stern expression, though going by the barely-suppressed smile on River's lips he'd only managed to look pleading.
"Of course, Doctor. Or – what do I call you?"
He hesitated. "I was the Caretaker last time. I thought I might use it again."
She smiled fondly and reached out to straighten his bowtie. "The real question is, who am I going to be?"
He grinned. It was going to be an interesting day.
The TARDIS landed, somewhat to his surprise, in the middle of a bustling town. Large pack animals drew carts laden with people and goods up and down wide streets, various shops and stalls hummed with activity, and a school had evidently just dismissed classes as dozens of children streamed out of a large building further up the block.
"These don't look like bones or meadows," River observed as she stepped out of the TARDIS and closed the doors behind her. "Where should we start?"
The Doctor opened his mouth to reply, but quickly shut it again as a man and two women wearing what appeared to be heavy ceremonial robes hurried out of the ornate building across the street from the TARDIS's landing site, talking animatedly while pointing at the Doctor and River.
"I think they'd like to tell us that, Dear," he replied, adopting his best Hello-I'm-the-Doctor face while firmly reminding himself that for all intents and purposes he wasn't.
The voices of their presumed summoners quickly became audible over the din of the street, in no small part because the noise level was suddenly far less loud than it had been. Clearly, the trio's behavior (likely combined with the sudden arrival of a blue box in the middle of the walkway) was attracting a significant amount of attention. As they neared, the sounds of conversation and business continued to drop before sputtering into silence. Any hope either the Doctor or River harbored about keeping a low profile vanished as hundreds of people paused in their daily activities to watch them with all the intensity of a starving man suddenly catching sight of his favorite meal.
It was more than a touch disconcerting.
"Are you the one?" the youngest woman among the dignitaries asked as she fairly ran into River. "Are you?"
"I'm sorry – the one what?" The Doctor assumed his most trustworthy smile, and reminded himself again that he was not the Doctor. "I'm the Caretaker, and this is my companion, Dr. Strangelove." He didn't miss River's grin as he gave the group her pseudonym. She was having entirely too much fun with this.
Looking more closely at the young woman who had accosted them, he realized with a start that she wasn't only young by comparison to her companions, who were slowly beginning to catch up, she was actually objectively very young: eighteen, possibly twenty human years old, but certainly no older. The man and woman behind her had to be at least fifty.
"The one who can rid us of the scourge of bone meadows," she said urgently. "Did you receive our call for help?"
River nodded. "Yes, we did. I'm afraid we're not from this planet, though. What exactly do you mean by 'scourge of bone meadows'?"
The young woman was taken aback. "You – you don't know? How can you possibly help us if you don't even know what they are?"
At this point, the oldest man in the party spoke up. "Your Grace, we were told that the one to come to our aid would be an offworlder. Perhaps they do not have bone meadows where they come from." He touched her arm gently, as if to soothe her.
The Doctor nodded vigorously. "Quite right. Never seen a bone meadow before, much less a scourge of them. Would it be possible for us to receive some kind of tour?"
The older man and woman both tried to cover up their aghast looks, but the young woman's expression merely turned from shock to determination. She was clearly accustomed to speaking her mind, and the Doctor became increasingly certain that he was dealing with some sort of hereditary ruler.
"I am the Duchess Claudia of Elfenor VII. You would like to see a bone meadow? If you are what you claim, and if you swear you will do everything in your power to rid us of this plague, then I will show you myself." She turned and began to walk determinedly down the still-quiet street.
"Your Grace!" protested the older women.
"I will not hear objections, Delvaria," she responded, maintaining eye contact with the Doctor all the while. "It must be done, so it will be done, and I will not have anyone risk what I am not willing to sacrifice myself."
River's brow furrowed. "Are you implying that merely visiting these bone meadows is dangerous?"
"It can be fatal," replied the older woman, glaring at her.
"So is waiting any longer," snapped the girl.
To Be Continued...